Nasturtium is a native of South America and was brought to Europe by the Spaniards. Until the eighteenth century nasturtium was used as a salad vegetable and the flowers were used for tea.
Nasturtium, tropaeolum majus, is a climbing annual plant with brightly coloured flowers of orange and yellow which make a colourful show in the garden. The leaves are almost round with deep veins radiating from the centre. The trumpet-shaped flowers, often larger than the leaves, bloom from June into the autumn.
Nasturtium is grown from seed sown in ordinary garden soil in a sunny spot. Sow the seeds in early spring directly into their flowering position in light well-drained soil. It is a useful plant in the garden, helping to protect plants growing nearby from troublesome pests, especially aphids.
Nasturtium leaves have a rather biting peppery flavour and can be used dried and powdered in place of pepper as a seasoning. Fresh nasturtium leaves and flowers can be added to salads and used in sandwich spreads. It is a strong herb, so needs to be used with care and only small amounts should be eaten on any one day. The large seeds, which appear in the autumn, can be pickled and eaten with cold meats in place of capers.
The leaves dry well for use in the winter and these should ideally be gathered while young and before the flowers appear, though this can sometimes be difficult in practice. They are then dried and stored in the usual way.
* Nasturtium is a herb full of Vitamin C, which helps to prevent infection, and eating nasturtium leaves at the onset of a cold or influenza may help to clear up the symptoms.
* The juice extracted from the stems and fresh leaves can be applied directly to the skin as a remedy for itching.
A poultice made of crushed nasturtium seeds is helpful in bringing persistent spots and boils to a head.
* To make a poultice: Crush the seeds to a pulp and spread it on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. Cover with another piece and put to heat between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Once it is hot enough, lay the poultice over the affected part.
Nasturtium contains a high concentration of sulphur which is good for the hair and scalp.
* To make a simple hair lotion: Put 1 large handful of fresh chopped nasturtium leaves into a wide-necked screwtop bottle and add I cup of vodka. Cover and keep in a warm place for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle once a day. Carefully strain the lotion until it is absolutely clear. Apply to the scalp once or twice a week, using a cotton wool pad or ball moistened in the lotion. Take care not to get any of the lotion anywhere near the eye area.